[Screen It]

(2017) (Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson) (PG-13)

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Action: A team of criminal thrill junkies must contend with one of their own turning against them and siding with a resourceful and ruthless villain who's intent on getting her hands on nuclear weapons.
Dom Toretto (VIN DIESEL) and his wife Letty Ortiz (MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ) are enjoying their honeymoon in Havana, although he isn't above engaging in some street racing to help out a relative. Things get more serious, however, when criminal mastermind and cyber-terrorist Cipher (CHARLIZE THERON) blackmails him into joining her team and turning against Letty and the rest of their crew. That comes to a head when DSS agent Luke Hobbs (DWAYNE JOHNSON) is assigned to steal an electromagnetic pulse weapon and he asks Dom and his crew -- that also consists of mechanic Tej Parker (LUDACRIS), thrill seeker, Roman Pearce (TYRESE GIBSON) and computer hacker Ramsey (NATHALIE EMMANUEL) -- for help.

They pull off the heist, but Dom then steals the weapon and joins Cipher and her right-hand thug, Rhodes (KRISTOFER HIVJU), in the air, while Hobbs ends up caught and sent to prison where he's put across the hallway from Deckard Shaw (JASON STATHAM), a rogue British special forces assassin the team previously defeated. After a prison break of sorts, black operative agent Mr. Nobody (KURT RUSSELL) and his new assistant, Eric Reisner (SCOTT EASTWOOD), spring the two and inform them and the rest of the team what they're up against. And that's Cipher's desire to get her hands on several nuclear weapons, with them unaware that she's blackmailing Dom into helping her by having his former love, Elena Neves (ELSA PATAKY), and their baby that he never knew about held hostage.

From that point on, and while Dom must contend with that and coming up with a plan of his own, his team does what it can to stop Cipher and hers.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Having written thousands of movie reviews over two decades of being a film critic, it's become increasingly difficult to come up with an original opening for each new review. While I've never gone back and checked, I'd say it's a safe bet I've accidentally used openings that are similar to previous ones that I've long forgotten. For instance, I'm pretty such I've started one with the old military saying of "Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead."

That could obviously be used in various ways as an introduction, but in regard to "The Fate of the Furious," it's intended both metaphorically and literally. In terms of the symbolism, it certainly applies to writer Chris Morgan, director F. Gary Gray and the cast and crew in regard to the outlandish storytelling, overall believability (even when keeping suspension of disbelief in the forefront of one's mind) and certainly the laws of physics.

Yet, it's also meant in a literal sense in that the latest from this film franchise, that once focused on street racing and the involved personality dynamics, now includes not one, but two torpedoes fired at our intrepid and now globe-trotting crew where one such torpedo is dispatched in, shall I say, a unique way probably never ever seen before in a film where such weapons were included.

Yes, the series' move into James Bond and "Mission: Impossible" territory that started a few entries back continues in this eighth installment -- yes, it's the seventh sequel -- of the "Fast and the Furious" series that began way back in 2001 and nearly ran out of gas by the time "Tokyo Drift" drove up. But since "Fast Five," the franchise has been firing on all cylinders, with the last film, "Furious 7," grossing more than $1.5 billion at the worldwide box office.

No doubt some of that stemmed from the off-screen death of lead Paul Walker and curiosity about how the film was going to handle that tragedy since the film was already in production. at the time of his death. With that character laid to rest in the last outing, and only referenced twice here, it's time for the characters to move on. And that they do, beginning with, natch, a street race between Dom (Vin Diesel) and another man in Havana while scantily clad women and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) look on. As in the past flicks, it's handled well and harkens back to the franchise's earlier and more simple days.

But now that it's segued into the Bond and Ethan Hunt universe, we need international danger to fuel the plot and thus an uber-hacker known as Cipher (Charlize Theron, sort of hamming it up, but not enough to make the villain enjoyable) blackmails Dom into joining her team and turning against his wife and the rest of their crew. That involves an electromagnetic pulse weapon, later nuclear launch codes and, yes, the aforementioned torpedo-firing submarine.

With the EMP weapon now in the wrong hands, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new right-hand man (Scott Eastwood, still looking so much like a younger version of his dad) gets DSS Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the rest of the crew together to try to find and stop Dom and his new villainous ally. But they'll need help, and thus their former enemy (Jason Statham) joins the team, resulting in lots of fighting, car chases and crashes and so on (not to mention comedy-based, macho squabbling and posturing between his and Johnson's characters).

One of those big set pieces is fairly impressive, and that's where Cipher has her team hack into various vehicles, turn them into self-driving cars, and then sic them on a diplomatic motorcade. It appears to be a combo of live-action and CGI effects and it's fun to behold in its grandiose nature. But boy, it requires a huge dose of disbelief suspension, which holds true for most every other part of the film as well, especially the last sequence with the sub and yes, the one particular torpedo.

Okay, I get it. Nobody watches these films for plausibility or adherence to physics. But some of those issues could have been addressed with plot and/or directorial tweaks, while other parts simply don't make sense (such as Dom deploying an EMP blast that wipes out power to the submarine and a nearby military chopper in flight, yet has no effect on the car he's driving and in which the weapon is located). And don't get me started on why the villain's team doesn't simply take over command of the heroes' vehicles (as they remotely do all of those other vehicles, as well as the sub) in any number of scenes and thus stymie their heroic efforts.

Yes, movies like this can be dumb fun, but they should still operate believably in their own implausible universe (and with a running time of less than 136 minutes) and not end up as distractions during the moment or in hindsight. And now that the series is fully operating in the Bond and Hunt sort of cinematic world, it struggles to keep up with what those franchises deliver in terms of enthralling and at least partially if not fully believable spectacle. Has the series jumped the shark in such regards? Maybe not, but it's getting close, and I half expect that such sea-going predators with lasers on their heads may show up next time around.

All of that said, there's enough action-based mayhem to keep viewers engaged and entertained, and the film wisely continues with its comedy elements (mainly revolving around Tyrese Gibson's character and his overreactions to everything that's occurring), all while including various cameos for diehard fans. "The Fate of the Furious" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 11, 2017 / Posted April 14, 2017

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